President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Friday that he would not permit an armed foreign intervention a century after Mexico was last invaded, reflecting fears of U.S. President Donald Trump's plan to designate the country's drug cartels as terrorist groups.
Designating groups as foreign terrorist organizations is aimed at disrupting their finances by imposing U.S. sanctions. While it does not directly give authority for overseas military operations, many Mexicans are nervous it could lead to unilateral U.S. action against gangs.
"Since 1914 there hasn't been a foreign intervention in Mexico, and we cannot permit that," Lopez Obrador said at a news conference, referring to the U.S. occupation of the port of Veracruz 105 years ago. U.S. troops also entered Mexico in 1916, chasing revolutionary Pancho Villa after he killed U.S. citizens.
Trump has repeatedly offered military assistance to help combat the cartels, but Mexico has consistently declined the offer, even after the gangland massacre of a U.S.-Mexican family this month.
"Armed foreigners cannot intervene in our territory," Lopez Obrador said, instead offering more cooperation with the United States on fighting drug gangs, which have shown their power in a series of battles with security forces and civilians in recent months.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr will visit Mexico next week to discuss security cooperation, Mexico's foreign minister said earlier.
The U.S. Embassy in Mexico did not respond to a request for comment.
The growing pressure on criminal gangs comes after Trump this year forced Mexico's hand on immigration by threatening to impose tariffs on Mexican exports to the United States.
Lopez Obrador conceded to a U.S. initiative launched in January called the Migrant Protection Protocols that has forced nearly 59,000 migrants to wait in Mexico for their U.S. immigration court hearings.
He also sent the newly formed National Guard, created to tackle Mexico's spiraling gang-fueled violence, to Mexico's borders to help stop migrants from reaching U.S. soil.
While the two countries already work together extensively on combating cartels, some U.S. security officials have said they find it harder to work with Lopez Obrador's government, which took office a year ago.
Gladys McCormick, a security analyst at Syracuse University in New York, said she expected Lopez Obrador and Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard to "put up more of a fight on this issue."
"Ebrard is waiting to hear from Barr on what precisely such a designation will entail for Mexico, given the lack of details and precedent such designation carries," she said.